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Executives

Nancy Benson – Director of Treasury and Investor Relations.

Alexander Smith – President, Chief Executive Officer

Charles Turner – Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

Brian Nagel – Oppenheimer

Bradley Thomas – Keybanc Capital Markets

Anthony Chukumba – FTN Equity Capital

John Barrett – Columbia Management

Pier 1 Imports, Inc. (PIR) Q3 2010 Earnings Call December 17, 2009 11:00 AM ET

Operator

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is Pier 1 Imports quarterly conference call. I would now like to introduce Alex Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer for Pier 1 Imports.

Alexander Smith

Good morning everyone. Thank you for joining us this morning. With me today are Kerry Turner, our Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and Nancy Benson, our Director of Treasury and Investor Relations.

Today we’re going to share the news about our third quarter and give you some thoughts about the rest of the year. As always before we begin, I’ll ask Nancy to read you the Safe Harbor statements.

Nancy Benson

I would like to remind everyone that all of the information being communicated during this call along with all comments being made, should be considered in conjunction with today’s press release which if you do not have one, is available to you on the Investor Relations page of our website at www.pier1.com as are all of our SEC filings.

I also need to remind you that certain comments made during this call may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and can be identified by the use of words such as may, will, expect, anticipate, believe and other similar words and phrases.

Our actual results and future financial condition may differ materially from those expressed in any such forward-looking statements as a result of many factors that may be outside of our control. Please refer to our SEC filings including our annual report filed on Form 10-K for a complete discussion of the major risks and uncertainties that may affect our business.

The forward-looking statements made today are as of the date of this call and we do not undertake any obligation to update our forward-looking statements. For a full report on the results of the third quarter, I will now turn the call over to Kerry.

Charles Turner

Earlier today, we reported net income of $39 million or $0.37 per share for the third quarter compared to a net loss of $37 million or $0.41 per share for the year ago period. Year to date, net income was $52 million or $0.55 per share compared to a net loss of $100 million or $1.12 a share last year.

Without any of the unusual transactions and expenses that were recorded during the third quarter net income would have been $2 million or $0.02 per share compared to a loss of $30 million last year or $0.34 per share. A reconciliation of this amount was provided in today’s press release.

Total sales for the third quarter increased to $327 million from $301 million in the year ago quarter. Comparable store sales for the quarter increased 13.7% which can be attributed to increases in traffic, conversion and average ticket.

Merchandise margins for the third quarter were up 410 basis points to 56.6% of sales compared to 52.5% of sales last year. The increase in merchandise margin is the direct result of strong input margins and reduced markdown activity.

For the first nine months merchandise margins increased 340 basis points to 54.4% of sales from 51% of sales last year. We expect margins to continue to improve significantly on a year over year basis through the remainder of the fiscal year and to be at least as good as the second quarter merchandise margin of 52%.

Store occupancy costs in the quarter were $65 million compared to $70 million last year. For the first nine months, store occupancy costs were $200 million compared to $214 million in the first nine months of last year. This improvement can be attributed to negotiated rent reductions as well as the reduced store cap.

For the third quarter gross profit dollars increased to $120 million or 36.6% of sales compared to $88 million or 29.2% of sales last year. For the nine months, gross profit increased to $286 million or 32% of sales compared to $262 million or 29.1% of sales last year.

During the third quarter SG&A expenses were $112 million or 34% of sales compared to $115 million or 38% of sales last year. SG&A expenses during the third quarter consisted primarily of $20 million in marketing, $74 million in payroll and $18 million in other SG&A costs.

Administrative payroll expense increased $7 million over last year as a result of the reversal of corporate bonus in last year’s third quarter and additional bonus reported in the third quarter of this year. Offsetting this increase in administrative payroll, was sales and store related expenses such as store payroll, supplies and general insurance costs which were closely monitored and actually declined by approximately $3 million.

During the quarter, SG&A expenses included special charges of $1 million resulting primarily from lease termination charges versus $7 million for the same period last year.

For the first nine months, SG&A expenses were $308 million compared to $332 million for the same period last year. Year to date SG&A expenses included $43 million for marketing, $208 million in payroll and $57 million in other SG&A costs. Year to date SG&A expenses included $11 million in special charges versus $14 million last year.

Over the first nine months our marketing expenses were less than $1 million over last year. Our marketing strategy continues to balance driving traffic with brand positioning. Compared to last year, our third quarter expenditures included more dollars being spent on print advertising rather than television. As a result of this change, and decreasing overall advertising costs, we were able to increase our customer reach without increasing marketing expense.

Our private label card holder remains an important target of our marketing efforts. During the quarter we offered new award incentives to our customers and as a result, sales on the card were 27.3% of U.S. store sales, up from 23% in the year ago quarter. We continue to work with our credit partner Chase, to ensure that our rewards program continues to drive incremental sales and increase brand loyalty while protecting Chase’s credit exposure.

Overall, results from operations for the third quarter improved to a profit of $2.8 million versus a loss of $34.8 million in the third quarter of last year.

At the end of the third quarter inventory was $340 million compared to $399 million at the end of the same period last year. Inventory per square foot was $41.00 versus $46.00 per square foot last year. For fiscal 2011, we expect inventory levels to be comparable to the levels seen throughout this year.

At the end of the quarter, cash and cash equivalents were $75 million. In addition, our secured credit facility had a calculated borrowing base of $273 million and after taking into account all reserve amounts and $97 million in outstanding letters of credit, $147 million remained available for cash borrowing.

Over the first nine months we did not utilize the secured credit facility for any purpose other than the issuance of letters of credit. Taking into account both cash and cash equivalents, and the availability under the line of credit for cash borrowings at the end of the quarter, our total liquidity was $222 million.

As previously reported, in October we completed the conversion of our 9% convertible notes. As part of this transaction, we recorded an additional expense of $18 million to fully amortize upfront costs and debt discounts and to record the additional interest charges. Actual cash charges totaled $14 million.

Following this conversion our remaining long term debt totaled $35 million consisting of $16 million of convertible notes, and $19 million in industrial revenue bonds.

At the time of the conversion, we issued approximately 24 million additional shares of common stock and at the end of the quarter our outstanding shares of common stock totaled just over 115 million.

In November, the worker, Home Ownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 was signed into law and as a result, our third quarter results include the effect of reporting a $56 million tax benefit on losses occurred in prior years. According to the terms of the Act, we expect to receive the refund during the first quarter of this year. Following the application for the refund, the net operating loss available to us at future income was approximately $120 million.

Capital expenditures for the quarter were approximately $2 million. Year to date we have spent $4 million primarily on updating existing stores. For the year, we expect capital expense will total about $6 million.

Looking ahead, we plan to spend $20 million in fiscal 2011 and will focus our spending on infrastructure investments that drive further efficiencies and upgrading the store environment in ways that will support comp store sales increases.

During the quarter, we closed two Pier 1 Import stores and ended with 1,059 Pier 1 Import stores with 978 stores in the U.S., and 81 stores in Canada.

In partnership with our landlords, we have now reached rental reduction agreements on approximately 32% of our stores that will result in total rental savings of approximately $10 million on a cash basis in fiscal 2010. When adjusting using straight line accounting methods, these agreements will reduce our reported rent expense by $6 million for the year.

Cumulatively, these agreements are expected to reduce rental expense by $38 million with almost $30 million of the cash savings being realized by the end of fiscal 2012.

Year to date we have closed 33 locations and expect to close seven additional locations during January and February. The decision to close 40 stores rather than the 50 stores previously reported is the direct result of favorable negotiations on those stores.

As a result of lease terminations, we anticipate recording an additional related charge of $1 million during the fourth quarter. Approximately $10 million have been recorded during the first nine months.

During the period, we ended our relationship with Sears de Puerto Rico and exited the Puerto Rico market. We did not incur any significant charges related to these store closures.

In terms of our ongoing store portfolio, we continue to prudently examine every location when presented with a lease event such as an economic termination or renewal option. We expect that during fiscal 2011 we will close 15 to 20 additional locations that do not meet our profitability expectations unless we can successfully negotiate rent concessions. In addition, we may identify a few new locations to add to our footprint.

Now I’d like to turn the call over to Alex to give you an update on the business.

Alexander Smith

Well, what a difference a year makes. Comparable store sales increases, strong merchandise margins and net profits and a strong balance sheet all add up to a gratifying and successful quarter.

While we expected our third quarter comp store sales would show improvements over last year, our better than expected 13.7% gain in this tenuous economic environment demonstrates to us that both new and loyal customers are responding well to our merchandise and in store experience. More consistent selling standards across the country coupled with an improved merchandise assortment resulted in higher conversion rates and average transaction value.

We are particularly pleased that comp store sales increases are happening in every area of the country and every major product category. Through September and October, our Halloween and Harvest merchandise performed very well. Smart purchasing decisions and improved sell through rates from both Harvest and Halloween meant that our stores were clean and ready for the November transition to Christmas.

The response to our Christmas assortment has been very encouraging and has allowed us to hold our initial prices much longer than last year. Indeed, as we speak, substantially all of our Christmas assortments remain at full price.

As you know furniture is an important part of our merchandise assortment and helped by additional marketing, furniture sales increased as a percent of our overall business during the quarter at merchandise margins significantly better than last year.

We are revising our in store merchandising techniques to make sure that we showcase our significant furniture offering while maintaining the overall treasure hunt feel of our sales floor.

Average ticket increased during the quarter as a result of more of our merchandise selling at full price. Careful inventory managements coupled with increased buying precision resulted in less clearance merchandise. We anticipate this will continue into January and February as I said just now, our seasonal merchandise sell through remains strong.

The 56.6% merchandise margin we generated in the third quarter exceeded our own internal expectations and is our best since the first quarter of fiscal 2004. Our buying and planning and allocations team have done an excellent job ensuring that we are able to meet our margin goals and still provide our customers with the values that will drive our business.

As a result of sustainable increases to average ticket, good conversion rates and an increase in store traffic, we expect to maintain positive comp store sales gains. Going forward, we anticipate the growth in comp store sales will outpace increases in traffic.

In January of course, we will be cycling a significantly larger amounts of clearance merchandise which we had last year. This will put downward pressure on sales. In anticipation of this, we plan to lever our regular assortments, especially our re-order merchandise where sales are also strong. This will offset some of the sales pressure and give additional strength to our merchandise margin.

Another important contributor to our quarter results was an increase in store traffic over last year. Our marketing campaign used many forms of media including print, online, email and social networking.

We shortened our TV brand awareness campaign to December only and re-directed the November TV dollars to larger distributions of print advertising. We’re pleased with the results.

In November we were delighted to partner with Disney Parks to give away four Disney Park vacations to customers who participated in either online or in store sweepstakes. The online sweepstakes significantly increased visits to our website and the in store promotion supported our Black Friday sales.

In December we began our sponsorship with Ellen DeGeneres in her support of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. At the exclusive retailer drop off location for Ellen’s show, we are receiving great exposure and are reaching important groups of both existing and potential customers. We are very happy to be working with both Disney and Ellen and are thrilled with the number of toys our customers are donating.

Our TV ads which I just mentioned have been airing on national cable networks since the beginning of December and complement this month’s extensive print advertising. Overall, our marketing dollars remains the same compared to last year but we have been able to increase our customer reach by changing our media mix and by taking advantages of decrease in rates.

As Kerry said, our preferred loyalty card continues to gain popularity. Sales on our card in the U.S. once again increased this quarter and the number of new credit application approvals also grew thanks in large part to the great job our store associates have done communicating the benefits of a loyalty card to all of our customers.

Through this card we have tremendous insight into the shopping patterns of our most loyal customers and are able to use this information to formulate meaningful marketing campaigns that will continue to fuel traffic growth.

As we look ahead to the conclusion of our fiscal year, we are planning fiscal ’11 in earnest. The whole organization is working together to develop strategies for fiscal 2011 that will build on the successes of this year.

As Kerry has told you, we will direct more capital into infrastructure investments than we have been able to over the last there years. We will focus on investments that drive greater efficiencies and make upgrades to our existing stores to support comp store sales increases.

In FY ’11, as in the past three years, we will focus on our business priorities which speak to great merchandise, great stores and a lean and efficient infrastructure. Naturally, with all that we’ve been through in the last 12 months, we feel very good about our direction and achievements. But we are realists.

Our sales per square foot and profitability are still well below the historical highs. We have plenty of work to do to put our company back where we know it can be.

In closing, I would like to thank all of our vendors and landlords who have worked with us this year to make our business stronger. I would especially like to recognize our entire store team for all of their great work this holiday season and to the home office and DC associates who are also working hard in support of their efforts.

We thank you for your interest in our company. We wish all of you a safe and happy holidays. And we’re now ready to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first call comes from Budd Bugatch – Raymond James.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

Congratulations and happy holidays to you all. My first question has to do with you talked a little bit about average ticket and the credit card penetration. Historically I think Kerry you’ve disclosed in the past that the credit card average ticket was about three times the normal average ticket. Can you give us some color on the average ticket by credit card?

Charles Turner

The trend continues. So it’s still about three times.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

So about 150 or so?

Charles Turner

Approximately.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

Inventory, I’d love you to clarify what you said on inventory about ending inventory being about the same levels comparable with the year. Is that on a square foot basis? How should we think about that?

Charles Turner

I think the total levels that you saw at the end of the first, second and third quarters and at the end of last year, you’ll see next year give or take some.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

And it looked like the payables have come down significantly for that. Does that reflect any change in structure?

Charles Turner

No, but we continue to work vendors off of letters of credit and put them on 30 day terms.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

Can you give us some color on the capital expenditures in terms of what you mean by infrastructure? Is that in the logistics area or how should we think about that and how does it mix between that and store upgrades?

Alexander Smith

We haven’t finalized the mix yet. Infrastructure really is IT and the supply chain that work all the way through including the distribution part of it and store to store.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

Is the Chicago/DC; is that still on track to close by year end in terms of the sale?

Charles Turner

Still on track, yes.

Budd Bugatch – Raymond James

You talked about 15 to 20 store closings and a few select locations potentially opening, but you would have already had those identified by now for next year, correct? What would you think the ending store count will change by next year?

Alexander Smith

Actually we haven’t. We certainly know the markets we’re looking at but we haven’t finalized any sites for next year. We really don’t need to get that done really until late spring. We can still get a full opening. So we’ll update you on that as we get a little more definitive.

Operator

Your next question comes from Brian Nagel – Oppenheimer.

Brian Nagel – Oppenheimer

I too would like to add my congrats on a nice third quarter. Nice start to the holiday season. On the expense side, as we look at the results here in Q3, this was the first time we’ve had expenses up modestly year over year in awhile. Sales are getting better and you’re hoping to drive that and presumably bring more staff into your stores. How should we think about that SG&A line into the fourth quarter and beyond if you want to comment on that.

Charles Turner

I think yes, the expenses went up a bit but I would say comp store sales went up more than that and so as we continue to look at expenses in the future, we’ll continue to be very diligent, especially on the fixed expenses and then on the variable expenses that will go up as comp store sales go up. We’ll continue to monitor that.

What we don’t want to do is continue to cut store staffing to really lose any of the customer service experience that we have that sets us apart from others.

Brian Nagel – Oppenheimer

On store staffing, maybe I could deal a little further there, how much further can we see sales improve from Q3 levels with your current staffing model in place.

Alexander Smith

The model will stay in place but the model is based on the volumes. What we want to do here is be really smart about that payroll number, and the easiest thing in the world is to kind of really crank it down and shoot ourselves in the foot. So we’re just looking at it very carefully all the time and if we see our traffic increases, and our conversion rates not make the gains that we think they should, that is an indication to us that maybe we’re running the payroll a little tight.

So we’ll just keep adjusting it as we go forward. But we’re not going to be reckless either. We’re not just going to throw money around. We’ll just let the payroll out very prudently really based on traffic.

Brian Nagel – Oppenheimer

You mentioned in your press release and your prepared comments about the impact that clearance sales had upon your comps in the fourth quarter of last year. Any way you can give us a little more clarification? If we look at the actual, what would the actual sales or volume or maybe the lift of comps that came as a result of that clearance activity so we can model our fourth quarter sales.

Alexander Smith

I’ll try to give you a bit of color on that. If you look at our September, October, November sales, if you remember they really fell off very, very significantly ROI basis. Although we were down in December of last year, we weren’t down nearly as much as we were in the previous two months, and a lot of that was driven by the discounting late in the holiday season and the post Christmas sale.

So our post Christmas sale was extremely strong. So that’s the thing that we’ve got to cycle through. I think you’re not going to see comp store increases of the level that we saw in the third quarter but we still think they’re going to be pretty meaningful.

Charles Turner

I think the biggest impact you’re going to see on the P&L in the fourth quarter is the impact on margin. As I stated and you saw last year’s merchandise margin in the fourth quarter was well below lower than 45% and this year we’re saying it’s going to be at least 52%.

Operator

Your next question comes from Bradley Thomas – Keybanc Capital Markets.

Bradley Thomas – Keybanc Capital Markets

Let me add my congratulations as well. I wanted to ask about merchandise margins. First of all you’ve been doing a great job with your initial markups and less clearance activity. How should we think about some of the drivers for merchandise margins as we get into next year?

Alexander Smith

I think the drivers are going to be the same things that they’ve been this year, and it’s really all the components. Our merchants continue to do an excellent job on negotiating very favorable first costs from our vendors and I can only think that as the experience of the team increases, and we’ve now got Kathy with us leading that team, we’re going to do an increasingly good job on that.

On top of that then we’ve got all our supply chain costs as you know, and we continue to work very diligently on those. I guess it’s fair to say we’re not going to get as much a percentage out of the costs that we’ve been able to get out in the last year because we’ve taken a whole bunch out, but we’ll certainly continue to move those costs down.

And that get’s us to the buyer’s markup and the amount of markdown is a function on how well we pick the goods and how well we quantify it, and I have to think we’re going to continue to make improvements in both those areas.

Charles Turner

Just to add on that, I would say we continue to see overseas, there continues to be deflation in costs and until we see petroleum prices going well much higher, we anticipate seeing a stabilization of raw material prices. The other thing that has benefited us is having $60 million less inventory. If we make a mistake, we just don’t have as much inventory to clear out, so that’s benefited us as well.

Bradley Thomas – Keybanc Capital Markets

In terms of quantifying your merchandise margin goals, what should we think about as a level and perhaps that you may target for next year or a longer term goal.

Alexander Smith

I’m not going to tell you our longer term goals. I don’t know, what can we say about that? I don’t think we can say anything meaningful about next year yet. Let’s just get through Christmas. Let’s get through January and February, see how it rolls out.

I think when we talk to you next time; we’ll be able to say something a little more precise on that topic.

Bradley Thomas – Keybanc Capital Markets

From a merchandising standpoint, it sounds like furniture is working very well, doing a great job with seasonal. What sort of changes could we look for in 2010 from a merchandising standpoint?

Alexander Smith

I think what you’re going to see is more of the same in a good way. You’re not going to see any huge changes in the departments in the stores. We pretty much cover all the categories we want to cover. We’re going to those categories that have performed well, we’ll continue to push hard and those categories that are a little weaker, we’ll scale back.

But that mix of 40%’is furniture and 60% to table top home décor and fragrance will continue because as we’ve always said, that mix really gives us that sweet spot in terms of us being able to balance units per transaction and our average ticket.

So hopefully what you’re going to see is just even better and more spectacular merchandise and us buying it with even more precision so we end up marking less of it down.

Bradley Thomas – Keybanc Capital Markets

Did you quantify or could you quantify the CapEx investment for IT and for the stores next year?

Charles Turner

No. But for now call it 50/50. We’ll give you more details later.

Operator

Your next question comes from Anthony Chukumba – FTN Equity Capital.

Anthony Chukumba – FTN Equity Capital

I’ll add my congratulations as well. I know that you mentioned that you had very strong comps across your product categories but I was just wondering if you could just give us a little bit more color. Was there any one or two particular categories that you really did well? You specifically called out seasonal and that furniture was a little bit higher in terms of you balance of sale.

Alexander Smith

I don’t want to be very specific on that other than to say again what I said in the script, which is what is very pleasing for us is that for the last several months we’ve had a balanced score card. So if I contrast where we are now to where we were some while ago, where we may have had one part of the business be quite strong but then other parts of the business being weak.

The store was very skewed, and what the merchants have been able to deliver of late is really very nice increases in every major category. And that’s great for us because obviously it spreads the risk and it means that we’re satisfying customers on a lot of different fronts.

So no particular call outs at all. Are we happy with every single SKU and every department? Of course not. Are there little areas that we’ve got to fix? Absolutely. But taken on the whole, we’re pretty pleased.

Anthony Chukumba – FTN Equity Capital

I know you mentioned traffic conversion and average ticket increased. I was wondering on the traffic, how much do you think your marketing as opposed to just better word of mouth as opposed to just maybe the consumers being a little bit better and starting to shop again.

Alexander Smith

I think it’s some of everything isn’t it? We’ve always said that we needed the consumer to be feeling somewhat better if we were to get a full dividend if you like from all the work that we’ve done. But we’re absolutely clear in our minds that we’re doing a lot better than we would be doing if we hadn’t done all the things we’ve done if that makes sense. So it’s a little bit of the consumer and a lot of us frankly.

Operator

Your next question comes from John Barrett – Columbia Management.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

It sounds like given the increased mix within the furniture as a percentage of sales you’re starting to see some evidence that the discretionary portion of your business is stabilized. Is that a fair assessment?

Alexander Smith

I think it is, but in truth, I think everything we sell is discretionary. I mean, we sell everything that people may want and really nothing that anybody absolutely needs. But I think what we’re sensing with the customer is that she’s had her pocketbook closed for a long time and suddenly those things that were just once are becoming needs in the consumer’s mind and they do want to refresh their home and change the appearance of a room with a piece of furniture or change the look of their dining table with new dinnerware.

So I think, I really can’t articulate it much better than that. I think there is sort of a pent up feeling from a lot of our customers that they just need to make their homes look a little bit nicer.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

And these are more opening price points on the furniture that you’ve seen improvement?

Alexander Smith

Not at all. In fact, we do have opening price points obviously but one of the things that’s been very pleasing in our furniture is we are selling all the way through our price structure and some of our biggest dollar generating furniture items are our highest priced ones.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

On the occupancy, you said is down $6 million year to year, so it’s $64 million in Q3?

Charles Turner

It was $65 million.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

And that $30 million over two years is going to be pretty much the benefit will be pretty straight lined over those two years?

Charles Turner

Yes.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

One question on the credit, you mentioned the improvement in credit penetration. In the other expense category, is there a portion there that is a credit expense to you? When you got above certain limits with Chase, do you have to pay?

Charles Turner

No. We basically don’t have any credit risk so we don’t have any payments. And the way we book credit fees is MasterCard, Visa, any of the fees. It all goes against sales.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

Marketing spend next year.

Charles Turner

Equal to this year for now.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

It seems like this year it was more Q3, Q4 loaded. Will it be more?

Charles Turner

It was last year too.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

Through this recession a lot of retailers have basically been operating at bare bones, very high levels of minimum staffing. As a percentage of your stores, what about next year? You’ve seen the sales increase. Should we, payroll as a percent start to increase?

Alexander Smith

We talked a little bit about that earlier. We run payroll as a percent to sales like most retailers do. We kind of manage the hours and we’re going to look at our conversion rates and look at our traffic and if we think we can drive sales a little higher by letting the brake off a little bit on payroll we will, but it certainly won’t get out of hand.

Charles Turner

But as a percentage of sales, we should see some leveraging. It may go up in absolute dollars but as a percentage of sales it should come down a bit.

John Barrett – Columbia Management

The merchandise margin guidance, great job in Q3. Did you say 52 for the year or 52 for Q4?

Charles Turner

52 for Q4.

Alexander Smith

Thanks everybody. Thanks for joining us today. We’ll see you next time.

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Source: Pier 1 Imports, Inc. Q3 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
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